A Weekend In Hull

Hull Marina

Over the last several days I’ve been slowly travelling from Glasgow back towards London. One of the highlights of this trip has been the weekend I spent in the town of Kingston upon Hull on the mouth of the river Humber. In the past I never thought much about Hull and any previous notions I had of the town were unfavourable and extracted from the media. Noel Gallagher only added petrol to all the lazy stereotypes by branding Hull ‘a f***ing shithole’ at one of his gigs earlier this year. Ground-breaking statement Noel. Last year Hull was made the official UK City Of Culture. I’d also heard numerous stories about artists moving to the town. In the wake of all this it was only natural that if I ever had the opportunity, I should one day go and visit the Hull. With hindsight I am glad I made that decision.

The grand and historic station of Hull was my first taste of the city. My first links with Hull were via its musical history. The members of David Bowie’s backing band during his Ziggy Stardust days, the Spiders From Mars, were from Hull. The guitarist from that band, Mick Ronson, was a key Bowie collaborator and played a paramount role in shaping the sound of some of Bowie’s most important records. He was also a gifted producer. He produced one of Morrissey’s best solo albums, Your Arsenal, from 1992. During that time he developed cancer and sadly passed away a year later. The Beautiful South and Everything But The Girl are two other bands hailing from Hull. Yet its the counterculture history of Hull, which is of great interest to me centred around two founding members of the experimental 1970s group Throbbing Gristle; Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti. Cosey recently published her autobiography, Art Sex Music, which is a riveting and fascinating read. What’s more, an insightful slice of the history of Hull is featured in the book from the times of her upbringing through to the late 1960s when she first met Genesis until the early 1970s when they left Hull for London. During this time they were squatting in a disused industrial building in Hull living an unconventional life outside of mainstream society and setting up what would later manifest into the pre Throbbing Gristle avant-garde performance art collective, COUM Transmissions.

 

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David Bowie with his Spiders From Mars backing band

 

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COUM Transmissions 

 

When I arrived at the train station, there were numerous landmarks and tributes to the town’s history including a statue of the poet Philip Larkin who lived in Hull for many hears and a blue plaque dedicated to the Spiders From Mars. There were also numerous banners promoting the city’s UK City Of Culture status.

 

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Hull train station 

 

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Blue plaque commemorating the members of David Bowie’s backing band from the early 1970s, The Spiders From Mars, who hailed from Hull

 

From the train station, I took a local bus to my accommodation outside of the city centre. My accommodation for the weekend was a family home full of character located on one of Hull’s notable avenues; wide leafy streets in a conservation area of handsome Victorian and Edwardian style houses. The interior of the house had many works of art and lots of original features. It was a real treat to stay here. My hosts were kind-hearted, cultured and generous, and took great care of me during my stay.

 

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Westbourne Avenue 

 

After settling in my room, I took a stroll towards the town centre. I walked the length of Westbourne Avenue, were I was staying, marvelling at all the houses. One of the houses had a small blue plaque stating that one of the main crew and survivors of the Titanic had lived there. Another blue plaque was dedicated to a poet or playwright. As I walked along Princes Avenue I encountered many Kurdish restaurants. I later learn that Hull is home to a sizable number of Kurds from Northern Iraq. The main high street is deserted. In fact there is not much life in the centre of town. At one point I enter a Weatherspoons bar situated in a grand Georgian building. It is one of the few bars in town that has at least a modicum of life. I find a table and order an IPA beer and a Veggie burger, before deciding to call it a night and return to my accommodation.

The next day I wake up early and walk back to the centre of town. On the way I make an early lunch stop at one of the numerous Kurdish restaurants. For only a fiver I am served a substantial tray of shredded strips of meat and cheap with a pile of salad and two large freshly baked disks of warm pitta bread along with an ayran yogurt drink, a traditional tea and a bottle of water. Similar establishments in London districts such as Stoke Newington, Dalston or Harringay don’t hold a candle. Gilbert and George would love this place. I just wish I could remember the name. But I’ll find it next time I am in Hull.

In town, I visit the Ferens Art Gallery, located in a Neo-Classical Grade II listed building. It has a modest but notable collection of art. Highlights include a painting by the Spanish Renaissance master Jusepe de Ribera, a painting featuring a ship entering Humber Dock after a long voyage from Calcutta by the 19th century Hull painter John Ward, and a group of more contemporary works including a couple of Leon Kossoff paintings, a Nan Goldin photograph and an imposing statue of a naked pot-bellied man holding a long fishing rod like spear by the Australian sculptor Ron Muerck.

 

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Sculpture by the Australian contemporary artist Ron Muerck in the Ferens Art Gallery

 

Yet perhaps the most memorable works on display are the photographs by the American artist Spencer Tunick entitled Sea Of Hull from the summer of 2015. This was a monumental work which took place in Hull and featured over 3,200 naked participants painted blue; the biggest ever naked photo shoot in the UK. The event generated a lot of publicity and some argue that it was an important springboard for Hull being granted its prestigious UK City Of Culture title two years later in 2017.

 

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‘Sea Of Hull’ by the American photographer Spencer Tunick

 

I then walk to the old town and along the Hull Marina before approaching the Fruit Market district, reminiscent of a micro Shoreditch. Its principle street, Humber street, features chic arty boutiques and pop up art spaces. One of the town’s core art spaces and an integral part of the contemporary art scene of Hull, the Humber Street Gallery, is located here. It is set over three levels including a rooftop terrace. When I visited a performance art event was in the process of being set up.

 

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The Fruit Market district 

 

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The Humber Street Gallery 

 

From the Fruit Market I strolled towards the Hull Minster; an enormous parish church and the largest in the country. It is a masterpiece of ornate architecture dating back to 1300. It is just as impressive inside; a loving work of art. It is a delight exploring the interior of this church. At one point I sit down on a wooden seat at the back of the church and a full service commences. It is a hypnotic experience and I take it all in for some time falling into an almost deep meditation; carried away just as much by my surroundings as the service itself.

 

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The Hull Minster 

 

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Inside the Hull Minster 

 

Next I amble around the attractive old town of Hull to find the Lion and Key pub, which was recommended to me by my hosts. It’s a good choice. An old school tavern with tasteful aesthetics and character located on the old High Street. All the ceilings of the pub are covered in beermats and its a popular place. I am lucky to have found a corner to sit down. On tap are the usual well known lagers and ales plus a few locally brewed ales. I go for a half of one of the latter. There are a number of traditional taverns dotted around the old town.

 

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Inside The Lion and Key pub 

 

My next destination is one of the jewels of Hull; the Ye Olde Black Boy pub dating back to 1779. This is the kind of place I came to Hull for. The outside and interior is untouched. Surprisingly, there are less people there than at the Lion and Key and I have no trouble finding somewhere to sit. I have a pint of some nondescript ale. For me it’s not about sourcing the best craft beers and everything about finding and being somewhere authentic.

 

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The Ye Olde Black Boy pub 

 

A few blocks away in the old town, I pay The George Hotel pub a visit; another classic old pub located via a narrow alley way, similar in some ways to the historic Ye Olde Mitre pub in Holborn, London. This tavern is pulsating with life. Like the last pub I am perhaps the only outsider in the building. I order a half of a delicious stout and crash here for a while.

 

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Inside The George Hotel pub  

 

After my jaunt visiting some of the old pubs of Hull, I head back towards my accommodation via one of the local city buses. En route I make a stop to visit the Hull Fair, which has been in full swing since the start of the weekend. It is a huge event and the biggest fair in Europe. The main thoroughfare is bursting with people and its sometimes a struggle to make any movements.

 

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Hull Fair 

 

It is also louder than a Motorhead concert. A myriad of piercing sounds and bright flashing lights thunder at me from all directions. If I were on acid, it would be the worst trip imaginable. It is a fascinating experience and sight though. The lyrics of The Smiths song Rusholme Ruffians whirl around my head, ‘the last night at the fair, by the big wheel generator, a boy is stabbed and his money is grabbed, and the air hangs heavy like a dulling wine’. Yet I don’t sense any menacing danger. Just an overwhelming overload of sensations. I am not tempted to hop on any of the rides nor am I swayed by the fluorescent coloured Slush Puppy like beverages. After some time I decide to walk back to my accommodation located not so far away from the site.

On Sunday morning, I order and pack all my things. My host Ruth kindly allows me to leave my luggage at her home so I can have another day to explore Hull before heading to my next destination. I take the local bus into the centre of town. Around the modern part of town I find a chippy and have a brunch consisting of battered haddock, chips and mushy peas with a can of Cherry Coke. It goes down a treat.

On the edge of the old town and opposite the Ferens Art Gallery is the town’s Maritime museum, located in a lovely historic Grade II listed building. The museum contains information, artefacts, paintings and documents related to the maritime history of the town. One of the most visible objects in the collection is the entire skeletal structure of a North Atlantic Right Whale, which was killed off Long Island, New York in 1907. Nearby is a large cabinet containing a collection of whale teeth and tusks including a few of the sword-like tusks found on narwhales in the Arctic.

 

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Whale teeth and tusks inside the Maritime museum

 

One of the most important, if not the most important, figures to come from Hull is the English politician and anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce. His drive to abolish slavery led to the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833, which ended slavery within the British Empire paving the way for other Empires and nations to follow suit. There is a tall and prominent column monument entitled the Wilberforce Monument dedicated to him in town identical to the famous Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London.

 

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William Wilberforce monument 

 

Located in the Museums Quarter of the old town is the Wilberforce House where he was born on 24th August 1759. The house is now a museum dedicated not only to his life and work, but also to the history of slavery. It is a real education and an eye opener to the inhumanities, injustices and brutality of the slave trade. In the outside Wilberforce House Gardens there is a white marble statue of the man himself.

 

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Entrance to the Wilberforce House Museum 

 

My time in Hull subsequently comes to a close. I go for an aimless stroll by the River Hull before taking a bus back to my accommodation to pick up my luggage and then take another bus to the train station where I await my train to Leeds.

 

By Nicholas Peart

(c)All Rights Reserved 

 

*All photographs are my own except the main article photograph at the top of the article and the photographs featuring The Spiders From Mars and COUM Transmissions

 

Visiting Jonestown: Site Of One Of The Biggest Mass Suicides In Recorded History

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The small village of Jonestown is located in a remote corner of the South American country of Guyana. This was also the location of the People’s Temple cult organisation founded in California and led by Jim Jones. On November 18th 1978, a mass suicide took place where a total of 918 members died. On the 3rd March 2014, I visited Jonestown and recorded my trip and thoughts in a diary I kept throughout my journey across Latin America, Africa and Europe entitled, ‘Travel Journal Of A Lost Soul’. 

 

3rd March 2014

Today was a solid hi-octane day. I must have experienced at least three such days like this on this trip. There was my refusal to travel from San Cristobal de las Casas to Panajachal by shuttle bus opting instead for an odyssey involving countless chicken buses and never-ending bus stops. Then there was the ten hour speedboat trip from Carti to Carpugana. There may as well have been a hole in the boat with the amount of water that got through. And did I already mention the road from Lethem to Georgetown?

I woke up this morning at 4.45am. I was on and off last night. I can’t remember the last time I had to rise at such an hour. My taxi was scheduled to arrive at my guesthouse at 5.45am. I waited patiently outside. After over ten minutes there was still no sign of it. Fortunately, the guesthouse owner was awake and made another call. A taxi swiftly arrived and I arrived at Georgetown’s Ogle airport with more time than I expected before my plane left for the town of Mabaruma. The plane was made of cards. Some screws were missing and the upholstery on the plane seats was collapsing. I thought to myself if I am ever going to die young it might just happen within the next hour. Was I tempting fate with my visit to Jonestown?

Despite my initial anxiety, the journey went OK with minimal turbulence. When I arrived in Mabaruma my original plan was to spend the day here before taking a boat to Port Kaituma in the mid-late afternoon. I think I saw all there was to see in Mabaruma in less time than a Ramones song. I saw a school. Then another school. Then a rusty disused tractor followed by a Seventh Day Adventist church and an abandoned smashed up saloon car. I was told that there would be a boat leaving for Port Kaituma at 9.30am. Furthermore, it was the only one until the next day. I hurried into the colectivo going to the port like someone trying to outrun a tsunami.

 

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Not much going down in Mabaruma 

Arriving in quite possibly the filthiest and most dilapidated ‘port’ I’d ever witnessed in my life, I am introduced to the young captain who tells me the fare will be 6,000 Guyanese dollars ($30). It is only an hour journey and I develop a paranoia (which may or may not be justified) that he’s giving me the Gringo rate. My anger combined with the impossible heat and humidity and depressed location send me on an epic internal rage where I start cursing my surroundings. Seeing all the mountains of trash in the already despoiled and poisoned dock waters makes my veins explode. I think to myself if God ever wanted to send me to hell, he’d kick my ass all the way here at the drop of a stone. As my mind slowly cooled and I develop the gift of perspective, I realise the boat fare is a small price to pay just to leave.

On departing, the captain revs the boat to full power. I grip on to all my things for dear life. We are going at supersonic speed against the river current and I feel as if I am sitting on the wing of a jet in motion. I keep my head down at all times with my mind on the prize of arriving in Port Kaituma. The full force of the air is enough to tear my head off.

 

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The dock of Port Kaituma; an environmental catastrophe 

When I finally arrive in the dock of Port Kaituma, I am greeted by a heap of floating plastic bottles, empty crisp packets and oil spillages. This is bad, but it doesn’t compare to Marabuma dock, which was a disgrace. Port Kaituma is small and over compact. Everything seems to be hanging on a thread here. I do my best to avoid the mud of the numerous dirt paths. I envisage all sleeping options in this town to be fleabags. But I get lucky when I stumble upon an Indian-run guesthouse with comfortable air conditioned rooms (AC here is a damn pre-requisite). After I’ve registered, I ask the Indian lady about visiting Jonestown, located just a few miles away. She tells me that she knows of someone who may be able to take me there. A few minutes later at the entrance of the guesthouse I am greeted by a burley Amerindian man named Wesley. He is a man of some stranding as the Head of Social Security Services in the local government of Port Kaituma. For a reasonable fee he offers to drive and accompany me to Jonestown from the guesthouse and back on his red quadbike. He tells me other modes of transportation are out of the question in order to access the site.

 

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My guide Wesley on his demolition machine. I clung to the back grills 

I sit on the metal bar grid on the side of the quadbike. The dirt road between Port Kaituma and Jonestown is not fit for any vehicle save for the hardiest of trucks and 4x4s. Every time we go over the multitude of dirt road bumps my poor behind gets bashed more and more into a coma. The palms of my hands are raw from perpetually holding onto the metal bars. The last place I want to spend long stretches of my life is in a Port Kaituma hospital. I would rather drink the poisoned laced punch like the other poor fuckers of the People’s Temple. Even though the journey lasts less than an hour it feels more painful than just about any other journey I’ve undertaken in my life. Fortunately, the road becomes smoother and very soon we approach the entrance with the infamous sign, ‘Welcome To The Peoples Temple Jonestown’. Driving past the sign and into the bush off the main road, we frequently have to battle stubborn overgrowth. Wesley tells me that for a long time nobody came to visit the site. He says that just a few years ago, the path was clear and unaffected by overgrown vegetation. At many intervals, my head, arms and legs are duffed up by an abundance of thorns and twisted vines. One of the vines is so stubborn it nearly yanks me off the bike.

 

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At the entrance to the People’s Temple in Jonestown 

Soon we arrive at the sight of a tall white memorial plaque dedicated to all the victims of the massacre. Over 900 bodies were strewn all around the complex on that fateful day in November 1978. What makes this visit even more poignant was listening to the last seven minutes of the ‘Death Tapes’ on YouTube. Amongst all the background sounds of young children crying and sombre music, Jim Jones is telling all the mothers to ‘stop this nonsense’ along with ‘you are getting the kids all excited’. This is followed by his immortal words; ‘we are committing an act of revolutionary suicide against this inhumane cruel world.’

 

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Jim Jones’ truck camouflaged by vegetation and decay

 

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A defunct generator once belonging to the People’s Temple

We walk more into the bush where numerous artefacts from that time are discovered such as a generator, a wheel and Jones’ truck, all rusted and decayed. After the mass suicides, many things were looted and only very few relics of that time remain. I ponder over the setting. The uber – remoteness of this location. Even though Guyana for many will always be associated with the tragic events which took place here, this site reminds me of a place long forgotten and neglected. Despite its messy, barbaric and tyrannical history there is something very peaceful about this place. Perhaps this is the eternal calm and stillness after the apocalyptic storm. Jim Jones, though his name and legend live on, is dead as Dillinger. Thus, there is also a peculiar sense of safety here, like it will never again be tainted by evil and bad times. I stop and remain silent here for several minutes just listening to the sounds of the jungle. I record this stillness in the shape of a few short video clips.

 

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Jim Jones; leader of the People’s Temple

 

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Aftermath of the mass suicide from November 1978

On the journey back to town it rains heavily. I am happy when I return to my room and equally happy that I have my flight booked to return to Georgetown early next morning. There is load reggae music playing on the floor below. Yet I am so battered and broken that my body simply shuts down until my mobile phone alarm goes off the next day.

 

By Nicholas Peart

©All Rights Reserved

SEE NAPLES AND DIE: Wanderings In Italy’s Most Colourful City

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I’d been looking forward to re-visiting the city of Naples for a long time. The last time I was there was very briefly with my family almost 20 years ago in the late 1990s on the way to the Amalfi coast. The thing that I remember most from that trip was not the beautifully pristine holiday brochure perfect Amalfi coast itself. Rather what I remember most vividly from that trip was Naples train station and the streets surrounding it. Seedy, dishevelled, dirty, loud and downright dicey are some of the adjectives that spring to my mind when I look back on it now. I remember walking through the station and trying to break away from my family to read a guitar magazine on one of the vendor stands. My dad immediately pulled me back towards the family and gave me a stern look as if to say, ‘Don’t even think about wondering around here by yourself’. For my parents were on a mission to get the hell out of this station as fast as it was humanly possible like trying to escape from a building about to collapse.

From the holy Umbrian town of Assisi located in the very heart of Italy, I board a discount Flixbus, which via Rome will take me to Napoli. Six hours later I arrive in the bus station. We approach the bus terminal along a road going through a neglected part of the city. The buildings are dilapidated and lathed with aggressive graffiti. Hardly anybody is walking the streets. When I exit the bus, I make my way towards Garibaldi metro station bypassing the train station. On my way to the metro line I walk through a modern shopping mall. My initial impressions this time of the area are more sanguine as much of the filth and grime I witnessed at the train station all those years ago appears surprisingly absent. I am quite disappointed.

I take the metro to Toledo station. When I exit the station onto Via Toledo I arrive on a busy pedestrian thoroughfare. My accommodation is located a few streets away from the station. From Via Toledo I walk through one of the adjacent side streets. This area is also known as the Spanish Quarter. I haven’t been to this part of the city before. The side streets I trudge off the main boulevard is like walking through a tightly connected open neighbourhood where everybody appears to knows one another. Tall crumbling buildings. Endless washing lines. Cheap hole-in-the-wall pizzerias. Buzzing scooters. Madonna and Bambini shrines. People laughing. People shouting. People arguing. What more could I want? This is my place. I am in heaven here.

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My temporary neighbourhood in the heart of the Spanish Quarter

My accommodation is located in one of those buildings on the first floor. My room is humongous. It could almost count for a studio flat with a tiny balcony overlooking one of the narrow streets. I rest for a while but soon develop impatient feet and an uncontrollable urge to dive head first into this unruly soup enfolding me. The Spanish Quarter of Naples is like a PG certificate Parharganj retaining all the positive attributes of Delhi’s notorious tourist ghetto district. Thankfully the air quality is better here and there are no aggressive hawkers relentlessly on my trail. When I venture back out I hit a nearby pizzeria and order a margherita pizza to take away for only 3 euros. It is cooked in an enormous dome shaped stone oven. On the counter there is a photograph of Diego Maradona. I already like this place.

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My local pizzeria where a traditional Margharita pizza done Napoli style will only set you back a few euros

A few minutes later my pizza is bunged into a takeaway box served to me piping hot. I walk with it back onto via Toledo and try to find somewhere to sit down. I spot a side street with a row of granite seats. Unfortunately, its occupied by shifty looking folk so I keep searching. Finally, on Piazza della Carita I find a spot to sit down. I fold my pizza in half before I munch away at it. The taste is different to other pizzas I’ve eaten across Italy. I notice that the dough is chewier. The ingredients also taste fresher and the basil topping is the cherry on the Napoli cake. I wolf it down like an uncouth savage. If I were eating this thing on one of the park benches by the Houses of Parliament I would have most certainly got some funny looks. But here in downtown Napoli nobody gives a toss.

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Piazza della Carita off Via Toledo 

Being a Sunday the Via Toledo is full of local families and couples wondering on their evening passegiatta. I walk past an old Baroque church where a gaggle of Bukowski bums are strewn across the steps. Close to the piazza is a small open-air market selling everything from candies and literature classics in Italian to handbags, purses and religious paraphernalia. Further down the via Toledo a vender is selling plastic swords which glow in multi colours. Towards the end of the street there is a large opulent neo-classical style shopping mall called Galeria Umberto. Its very similar to Leadenhall market in the City of London. All the time, I see and hear scooters and motorbikes on every street I walk down whether it’s a main boulevard or some dingy narrow alleyway. The last time I encountered as many scooters and motorbikes was when I was in Hanoi five years ago.

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Via Toledo

On the way back to my guesthouse I search for a small alimentari to buy a large bottle of water. I have little success. Whenever I do find a place that’s open its either an ice cream parlour or tourist eatery, which sells small bottles of water for about two euros a pop. I finally get rewarded down a small alleyway corner close to my guesthouse. There in a small Bangladeshi owned grocery shop where I locate a large two litre bottle of water for just one euro.

The next day I head over to Toledo metro station to take a train over to Garibaldi where the central train station of Napoli is located. I wanted to relive my experience from 20 years ago. When I arrive at the station its almost unrecognisable to the one I have those flashbacks of all those years ago. I am surprised to discover a rather modern and funky contemporary looking station redesigned by some hip architect du jour. And with security camaras! Wow!! And there was me thinking I was going to get a taste of Caracas. Even the main piazza Garibaldi outside has some trendy structure around it to make it look all modern and up with the times. I am kind of reminded of the old port area of Marseille which has a modern and hip structure to clean up the rough and tumble image of the city. But you can only fool people so much. Head down any of the narrow streets directly adjacent to it and it’s the same as it ever was. And, fortunately, this is true for Napoli. I head down one of these streets and in almost no time I arrive at a run-down piazza where there’s a small unkempt market of African vendors selling unfolded rags of second-hand clothes. What I was hoping to find is finally here. It’s thankfully midday. At night I would think twice about walking around this part of town. Even the wayward wonderer that is I has at least a modicum of common sense.

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Market stalls near Piazza Garibaldi

By this rough and tumble piazza, there is a small castle like façade marking the gateway to the Quartiere Pendino. This part of the city is arguably the most busted and down at heel. Yet it’s a tantalising area to explore. I develop mental images of the La Goute d’Or district in Paris nestled within the triangle of Barbes Rouchechouart, Chateau Rouge and La Chapelle metro stations.

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Photos from the Quartiere Pendino

As well as people from different parts of Africa there’s a huge south Asian community. I spot a handful of Napoli Indian Bangla eateries. There are many outside fruit and vegetable vendors where a kilo of lemons or tomatoes can be picked up at rock bottom prices. Yet it’s the site of the seafood vendors that tickle my imagination. It is raw sight with no refined presentation. Freshly caught seafood – bosh – in white plastic water filled containers or on large crushed ice slopes ready to be bought. Here one could be mistaken for being in one of the gritty streets of Victorian London or Canaletto era Venice. Sacks of muscles, clams and mountains of prawns and mini squids are all waiting for overworked chefs to transform into a sumptuous linguini alla vongole dish.

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A fish stall in the Quartiere Pendino

Leaving the Quartiere Pendino district en route towards Via Dei Tribunali in the centro historico district I spot a pizzeria and order a Capriccioso pizza – the full monty. It doesn’t disappoint, just like the pizza I had last night at my local in the Spanish quarter. Via Dei Tribanali is the heart of the historic centre of Naples. Its less off the beaten piste than Quartiere Pendino but it’s also a true slice of raw Napoli nonetheless. There are many old churches around here. My first stop here is the Quardreria e Cappella del Pio Monte della Misericordia.

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On Via Dei Tribunali in the historic centre 

Inside the chapel at the main alter is an enormous oil painting by Caravaggio entitled Le Opere di Misericordia. There are also paintings by other Baroque era Italian artists such as Luca Giordano, Battistello and Fabrizio Santafede. Giordano’s Deposizione painting features Christ being….. Sadly it is difficult to fully scrutinize Caravaggio’s painting. It is located too far away and the electric light around it obscures parts of the painting.

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Caravaggio (1571 – 1610) – Le Opera di Misericordia

The 7 euro entry fee is worth it though since the price also includes entry to a separate Pinacoteca art gallery on the grounds of the Pio Monte della Misericordia. There are several paintings on display by the 18th century Italian painter Francesco De Mura. He is a very skilled realist painter from the same tradition of Caravaggio who came before him. There is humanity and emotion exuding from his paintings, most notably his Cristo alla Colonna (1760) and San Paolo Eremita che adora la Croce (1760) paintings. Yet its not on the same visceral scale.

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Cesare Fracanzano (1605-52) – Miracolo di in indemoniato

The 17th century Baroque painter Cesare Fracanzano’s Miracolo di un indemoniato painting gets closer to core of what made Caravaggio such a powerful painter of the human condition. In another corner of the pinacoteca are a number of donated works of art by a group of international contemporary artists. One of the leading figures of the Italian Arte Porvera movement, Jannis Kounellis, is featured as are two other important Italian artists of the Transavangardia movement of the late 70s/early 80s; Francesco Clemente and Sandro Chia. The 1970s conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth is in there as is the Austrian sculptor and conceptual artist Franz West. Anish Kapoor has a recent work from 2011 appearing on initial glance to be formed from bee’s wax or caramel but is most likely to be resin solution.

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Francesco De Mura (1696 -1782) – Portrait from 1735

Back in the main area of the Pinacoteca, I find another painting by Francesco De Mura, which stops me in my tracks from 1735 of a portrait of a voluptuous female aristocrat. She radiates unhappiness, boredom and repression. There’s a feistiness inside of her which is wanting to explode, yet it will remain trapped. I think of the French painter Ingres’s Madame Moitessier portrait, which he made over a century later. Both exude a kind of Junoesque beauty and both look bored, yet Ingres’s subject appears less intense.

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Jusepe de Ribera (1591 – 1652) – Portrait of St Antonio Abate 

A portrait of St Antonio Abate by the Baroque Spanish master Jusepe de Ribera is in the collection. The portrait has an acute Caravaggio style realism and humanism to it. The old man’s face, beard, eyes and left hand is painted unadulteratedly in all their detail. There are no embellishments or mannerisms. Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro technique is executed very skilfully too.

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Giovanni Baglione – Sepoltura di Cristo

One of the highlights of the Pinacoteca’s collection come’s towards the end of my visit via a painting by Caravaggio contemporary Giovanni Baglione entitled Sepoltura di Cristo. In this painting Christ is painted in a seductive homo-erotic way. Muscular with toned olive skin, almost fully naked with an angelic face. A body and face so beautiful it’s impossible not to be moved by this painting. The people around him are full of sorrow too. It is a modern and human painting and the faces of the other figures look so contemporary they could be walking the streets this minute.

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Piazza Bellini

Back on Via Dei Trubunali I walk towards Piazza Bellini. There are several vendors selling all kinds of miscellaneous knick-knacks and souvenirs. Lots of Diego Maradona related items. In Napoli he almost has the same status as the patron city saint himself San Genarro – more on him in a bit. In the 80s Maradona played for Napoli and so he has a special place in the city’s heart. At another stand I spot a column of toilet paper rolls with the faces of politicians on each sheet. The Italian politicians Berlusconi, Renzi, Salvino and De Maio make the cut as do Trump, May, Macron, Merkal, Putin and Kim Jong Un.

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From one of the many of the souvenir stalls in the historic centre 

Piazza Bellini, located at the end of Via Dei Tribunali, features a statue of the 19th century Italian opera composer Vicenzo Bellini whom the piazza is named after. His statue is defaced with graffiti. By the piazza there are some vendors selling second-hand books. I spot several art books priced from just a euro yet all the text is in Italian. Nevertheless I locate a large series of A3 size booklets featuring large high quality colour photographs of works by different old master artists of the past. Corregio, Mantenga, Hugo Van der Goes, Parmagiano, Carpaccio and many more are here. Nearby I visit a couple of bric-a-brac shops selling random objects and artefacts such as figures of St Francis of Assisi, period cabinets, lamps and porcelain crockery. In one corner I spot a figure of an old saint or vagrant dressed in rags carrying a rusted metal tin.

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In a small antiques/bric a brac shop by Piazza Bellini

Most of the walls of the city are covered in graffiti and political and propaganda posters. I spot one small poster with the following slogan, ‘Napoli Non Si Vende!’ (Napoli’s not for sale). I walk aimlessly along the graffitied streets of the San Giuseppe quarter in an almost delirious state.

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Yours truly at Piazzeta Casanova near the historic centre 

When I do get off my cloud I make my way to Naples’ Duomo or main cathedral. It is an outstanding and impressive Gothic cathedral dating back to the early 13th century. Yet I’ve come to see the smaller basilica of Santa Restituta located adjacent to the main Duomo. It is also the oldest building in Naples dating back to 324 AD when it was constructed by Constantine. Inside there is a small baptistery with relics and mosaics going back to 5th century and early Christian times after Antiquity and the fall of the Roman Empire.

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The Santa Restituta basilica – the oldest building in Naples dating back to 324 AD

 

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Inside the baptistery of the Basilica containing mosaics and relics dating as far back as the 5th century AD 

When I return to the Duomo I enter the Royal Chapel of the Treasure of St Januarius or San Genarro, dedicated to the patron saint of Naples himself. He is somewhat of a legendary figure who died in 305 AD. When his body was transferred to the cathedral two glass vials containing his dried blood liquefied. They are kept in a silver reliquary behind the alter. This ‘miracle’ has continued to repeat itself at least three times a year (on the first Saturday in May and on September 19th and December 16th). The liquefaction during a special mass on those days. To many San Gennaro is viewed as the saviour and protector of Naples and if the blood doesn’t liquefy on those auspicious dates, then catastrophic events are supposed to besiege the city.

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The Royal Chapel of the Treasure of San Genarro

The following day I walk to the end of Via Toledo on to Piazza Dante lined with an ornate, albeit crumbling, crescent of attractive Baroque era architecture as well as a prominent white statue of the great poet himself. It is a seedy area and by the statue there’s a banner advertising an organised demonstration of free health care for everyone.

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Piazza Dante

I re-enter the historic centre of Naples simply meandering and walking dreamily along the main thoroughfares and side streets. On one of the streets in this part of town, Via San Gregorio Armeno, I feel like I am walking through a corner of the old medina of Fez in Morocco even if its just for a fleeting moment. In this part of town I visit the classically Baroque church San Gregorio Armeno, which contains frescos by the Neapolitan Baroque era artist Luca Giordano. Inside it is a truly luxurious church with ornate and opulent walls, arches and ceilings. The Giordano frescoes crown it all.

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Via San Gregorio Armeno

 

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The Baroque style San Gregorio Armeno church with frescoes by Luca Giordano

I walk away from the historic centre and onto Via Forcella. This is classic unkempt Napoli where one can find outdoor vendors selling groceries for a fraction of the cost of those at established supermarkets and alimentaris. The concentration of tourists from the area around the historic centre has declined here and all that can be found are local Neapolitans going about their daily life. As I wonder through this part of town I look for a cheap and authentic pizzeria. By chance I stumble upon L’Antica Pizzeria ‘Da Michele’.

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Life goes on around Via Forcella 

Little did I know that this place is something of an institution and is heaving with locals and tourists who make the effort to get here. Originally established in 1870 this pizzeria specializes in one pizza and one pizza only; La Margherita. 4 euros will get you a ‘normal’ sized pizza. 4.50 a medium sized one and 5 a large one. The boys are hard at work at the back working like the most overworked Amazon worker on a hardcore treadmill. The difference here being that they live and breath the work. Its popularity means that this place is no secret and photographs adorn the walls of the proprietors with Italian politicians Matteo Renzi and Luigi De Maio as well as a photo of Julia Roberts eating at the establishment. I don’t fancy the long wait to eat inside so I order a pizza to go. I find a bench to sit nearby to it. Most of the pizza is covered in a thick film of olive oil. I let some of it drip onto the pavement so it doesn’t get on my clothes. The pizza is heavenly. It is so delicate it melts in my mouth. Moreover, all the ingredients taste and feel fresh and not processed. The best margherita pizza I have ever had period.

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Outside pizzeria ‘Da Michele’ – an institution in Naples

 

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The best margherita pizza I have ever had 

I revisit the historic centre for an idle wonder and decide to walk towards Piazza Garibaldi. I walk along the main boulevard Corso Umberto I via Piazza Bovio and Piazza Nicola Amore. Continuing on from Piazza Nicola Amore and getting nearer to Piazza Garibaldi, I walk past the dinghy side streets I became familiar with from yesterday morning. The kind of streets where Caravaggio would be fighting and quarrelling with those who had the temerity to rub him up the wrong way. Jim Morrison chose to crash in Paris, but he would have felt in his place on those streets. As would have the great precocious French poet Arthur Rimbaud. Their hatred of stultified, vacuous petit bourgeois society would have made this place a paradise for them. There’s something of the Petit Socco district of Tangiers here. When I reach the central station of Naples I decide to purchase a ticket to the ancient Greek civilisation of Paestum for the next day.

I conclude my time in Napoli with a visit to two of the most well-known sites in the city, the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte and the National Archaeological museum. Even if you have just a passing interest in art and art history through the ages, they both contain a very rich collection of important and landmark paintings, sculptures and artefacts. One of the highlights are the works from the Farnese Collection, especially the classical sculptures in the National Archaeological museum. The Capodimonte museum is located in a grand red stately home like building on the outskirts of the city centre in a park on top of a hill with some awesome vistas over the city. The building is in fact called the Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte, which was once the royal residence of the Bourbon King Charles III. It dates back to 1738 and is today home to one of the best collections of art in Italy. I walk all the way to the museum. It is a long walk but sometimes I like to take a long walk through a city to discover corners of unexpected delights and nuances. Even when I travel from one part of the city to another by public transport to reach my desired destinations, I often feel that I miss things on the way. The process of the journey is sometimes just as important as the destination itself.

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The Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte

The Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte has a huge collection of Renaissance era paintings (including paintings by Simone Martini, Masaccio, Mantegna, Botticelli, Bellini, Correggio and Titian) as well as many paintings by Baroque and Napoli masters. Of those works, Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernis (1612-13) and Caravaggio’s The Flagellation Of Christ are two distinct highlights.

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Caravaggio (1571 – 1610) – The Flagellation Of Christ

Caravaggio is well known for his brutal and gritty realism and knack for visceral and raw emotion in his work, but this painting is one of his strongest works if not his best. It’s a modern painting too. The two sinister and intimidating looking figures to the left and right of Jesus look like they could have been plucked from the set of The Football Factory.

Artemisia Gentileschi is unique for her time, since she was a female artist during an age when it was difficult to be accepted and validated. The Italian art historian Roberto Longhi called Gentileschi, ‘the only woman in Italy who ever knew about painting, coloring, drawing, and other fundamentals’. She was part of a generation of painters that came after Caravaggio and were inspired by his works. Her Judith Slaying Holofernis painting is disturbingly graphic and full of gore; the sword is halfway through Holofernis’s neck and the bed sheets are covered in blood. It’s realism and the chiaroscuro technique may be influenced by Caravaggio, yet not even Caravaggio’s most brutal paintings such as the ones featuring the severed heads of Goliath and John The Baptist reach this threshold of vivid violence.

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Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – 1656) – Judith Slaying Holofernis (1612-13)

In this painting it is the woman who has the power over the man. Judith takes revenge on Holofernis for raping her. Today Holofernis could represent the disgraced Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein and Judith the sum of all the women accusing him of sexual assault. All their cathartic rage and pain is channelled and processed into the sword hacking away at the head of their tormentor. The museum also has a good selection of modern and contemporary art works. There’s a huge black relief installation by the Italian artist Alberto Burri as well as a room containing a work by Jannis Kounellis featuring an assortment of large terracotta vases. Elsewhere there are works by other important post WW2 Italian artists such as Giulio Paolini, Mario Merz, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Gino de Dominicis, and Mimmo Jodice.

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Alberto Burri (1915 – 95) – Grande Cretto Nero (1978)

 

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Jannis Kounellis (1936 – 2007) – Untitled (1989)

The National Archaeological museum is a vast sanctuary of classical artefacts. Some of tremendous significance. There is a sizable collection of Egyptian artefacts, Roman mosaics and many of erotic art artefacts from the Roman period. Of all the erotic art in the museum, the frescos and the sculpture of Pan having sexual intercourse with a goat are the most outstanding.

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Erotic frescos from the Roman period at the National Archaeological Museum 

 

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Erotic sculpture of Pan and a goat from the NAM 

Yet the most important part of the museum is arguably the classical sculptures from the Farnese collection. Many of the sculptures in this collection are Roman era copies of original sculptures made during the Classical Greek period.

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Venus Kallipygos sculpture at the NAM

 

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Artemis of Ephesus sculpture at the NAM

Of those works the refined and elegant Venus Kallipygos sculpture, the mixed-material  Artemis of Ephesus (an oddity of a sculpture for its time not sticking to the standard rules of classical sculpture) and the giant Farnese Bull are three highlights.

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The Farnese Bull sculpture at the NAM

The Farnese Bull is unique since it’s the largest piece of classical sculpture ever discovered. Yet what is interesting is that when the work was first discovered, all the pieces of the sculpture were fragmented, and it was only through extensive restoration that it was all re-connected back to its original form – quite a feat.

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Oscar Wilde and Bosie in Naples in 1897

Vedi Napoli e poi Muori indeed. It has been one hell of a banquet lapping up this raw pearl of a city. So much so I feel like I can die with a smile on my face. On my last evening in Naples, as I surf the net on my laptop, curiosity leads me to the great playwright, writer, poet and wit Oscar Wilde. I discover a few grainy black and white photograph from 1897 of Oscar with his on-off friend and lover, the poet Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas, in this city. Having spent two years in prison on charges of homosexuality (this was Victorian Britain) brought to the fore by Bosie’s father, the Marquess of Queensbury, Oscar turns his back on Blighty. With his reputation in tatters he heads south. It is in Naples where he settles with Bosie for the latter part of 1897 before moving to Paris where he would remain until his death in 1900.

 

By Nicholas Peart

(c)All Rights Reserved 

 

Investigating The Contemporary Art Scene Of Athens

For most of November 2017 I was based in Athens. During my time here I delved into the history of Athens and Greece via all the sites and museums in this city. Yet I endeavoured to set aside ample time to visit many of Athens’ contemporary art galleries. The city has a very healthy art scene. In spite of the economic and social problems facing the country and the lack of funding some artist spaces may be experiencing, there is a veritable buzz here. A number of international artists have moved to the city attracted by this buzz and more affordable rents. As Berlin (long popular with artists for its cheap rents and artistic spirit and history) has become less affordable, some artists have already been looking to other cities across Europe to base themselves in. Athens is one of those cities, seen as a compelling cultural alternative to Berlin. So much so that in 2017 the Documenta art event held in the German city of Kassel every 5 years, was also held in Athens. As a city with over 2,500 years of history and the landmark Akropolis site beaming across the landscape, that can’t be a bad thing to blossom the imagination.

 

The Exarcheia district

For a strong taste of alternative Athens, the Exarcheia district is the place to be. This is a raw and unsanitised part of the city. Its streets are caked in graffiti and there’s a heavy anarchist spirit in the air. The scars of the country’s economic problems are very noticeable as you walk the streets. Frequent demonstrations take place here and often without warning. I’ve written a separate post about this district with several photos.

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Mural of a homeless person in Athens’ Exarcheia district 

 

EMST National Museum of Contemporary Art

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Athens’ National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) opened its doors in the hip Koukaki neighbourhood only two years ago, after a plethora of legal and political difficulties. When I visited it was only partially open. It was not possible to access the museum’s permanent collection of art works, which was a great shame. Hopefully that will be possible soon. On a positive note, I viewed two impressive temporary exhibitions. The first of those was a photography exhibition of contemporary Greek artists entitled What We Found After You Left, which was made in response to a related film, Tripoli Cancelled, by the film maker Naeem Moheiaeman about his father being stranded in Athens’ now defunct Elinikon Airport for nine days without a passport in 1977. The recent photographs created in response are taken in Elinikon Airport, which shut down in 2001. The airport is now a crumbling disused relic. In the photographs one can sense desolation, wilderness and decay. A true feeling of distressing alienation, which is what Moheiaeman’s father experienced during his ordeal. A re-visit to a traumatic period of time made even more poignant by the airport’s neglected and forlorn state.

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Photograph by Christos Kanakis from the What We Found After You Left exhibition at EMST 

The second exhibition, Chinese Xieyl, located on the bottom floor of the museum features a selection of works from the collection of the National Art Museum of China in Beijing as part of a collaboration with EMST. It is a brilliant exhibition and an excellent sampler of important painting and sculpture works from China during the 20th century.

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‘Miners’ by Li Shinan (1940-) from the Chinese Xieyl exhibition at EMST 

 

State of Concept 

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State of Concept is a not for profit space also located in the Koukaki neighbourhood not far from EMST. It was founded in 2013 by the art critic and curator Iliana Fokianaki and is an integral component of Athens’ contemporary art scene. I visited on the opening night of a solo show by the Czech artist Zbynek Baladran entitled Difficulties To Describe The Truth. On display are short films and installation works by the artist. Through his work he explores the very notions of what is often passed of as truth. This is especially pertinent in this current politically tense climate of fake news, information wars and cheap noisy rhetoric masquerading as facts. Through this deluge of corrupted information, especially in the digital world of limitless over-saturated free content, getting to the real truth and facts is mired with obstacles.  It’s less challenging to remain tranquilised with easy truths.

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Contingent Propositions (2015-17) by Zbynek Baladran from his solo show at State Of Concept  

In addition to this exhibition, in the lower level of the gallery there was another separate solo exhibition by the Russian artist Anton Vidokle comprising of a trilogy of his films entitled Immortality for all: A film trilogy on Russian Cosmism. Cosmism was a movement, which developed in Russia in the late 19th century, before the 1917 October Revolution, by the Russian philosopher Nikolai Fedorov (1829-1903), who was a champion of life extension, human immortality and transhumanism. He even believed in the resurrection of the dead. As wild as all this may have sounded back then (and even today), current emerging technologies, especially Artificial Intelligence, more than 100 years later are working towards these realisations. In fact the Life Extension industry is poised to be huge in the future. Google have a department called Calico which is focused on life extension and one of the leading visionaries in this field, Dr Aubrey de Grey, has a not-for-profit foundation called SENS, which is completely dedicated to life extension and anti-ageing. The futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil has gone on record to state that the Singularity (the event when AI will be on par with human intelligence and when both will merge) will occur in 2045. Both Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky were influenced by Fedorov’s writings. Russian Cosmism was a transformative movement striving to transcend art and philosophy by creating a new world. A world where one is universal and not cemented to one planet – where one is fully connected to the universal cosmos and astral metaphysical world; free from micro societal constraints and mores.

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Still from the film Immortality for All: A film trilogy on Russian Cosmism by Anton Vidokle 

 

The Breeder Gallery

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Located in the Metaxourgio district the Breeder Gallery is one of the city’s most cutting edge art spaces. It is a large multi story gallery. I visited one evening at an opening featuring three separate exhibitions. The first of these exhibitions, In Search Of Happiness, by the local art collective Arbit City was made up of an installation of flags on the outside front façade of the gallery.

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In Search Of Happiness – flag installation by Arbit City at the Breeder Gallery

The ground floor and lower level of the gallery featured the second exhibition, a minimalist solo exhibition entitled Nearly Inaudible Breathing by the Portuguese artist Joana Escoval. Yet it was the third exhibition on the upper floors that was the highlight; a group exhibition featuring emerging Greek artists called Athens And Its Periphery In Regards To Contemporary Painting curated by Hugo Wheeler, a young independent British curator who recently moved to Athens from London. For me this show was one of the most vital shows I witnessed during my time in the city with works by local artists projecting the zeitgeist of Athens as a developing and increasingly important and exciting global art city and hub attracting artists from around the world just as Berlin has been doing over the last several years.

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Work by Orestis Lazouras as part of the ‘Athens And Its Periphery In Regards To Contemporary Painting’ group exhibition at the Breeder Gallery 

 

Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center

The Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center is a large warehouse space over two floors dating back to 1988. It has hosted many important exhibitions in the city. During my visit I attended the opening night of a new exhibition, Integral II, the second part of a two exhibitions themed around not just the current political and economic situation enfolding Greece, but also the situation throughout the world. In the first room I enter I am greeted by a giant installation created by the well known Greek born artist Jannis Kounellis who was one of the main figures of the Arte Povera movement in the 1960s and 1970s in Italy. The installation features a large square industrial steel plate resting on one of its edges surrounded by burlap sacks containing charcoal. In the background to the right of the installation are a series of paintings by George Stamatakis and to the left is a tall vertical relief by Socrates Fatouros comprising of bitumen sheets and elastic liquid membrane.

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Works by Jannis Kournelis, George Stamatakis and Socrates Fatouros at the Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center

The exhibition continued upstairs featuring another smaller work by Kournelis as well as more works by contemporary Greek artists. Of those works it is George Lappas’s Traveller (2013) work, which stands out. It is a great red sculpture made of iron and red felt. The ‘headless/dislocated’ traveller reflects Lappas’s own experiences as an eternal refugee.

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Traveller (2013) by George Lappas 

 

Gagosian Gallery (Athens Branch)

The Gagosian Gallery is probably the largest art gallery empire in the world. The Athens branch is quite modest in size spread over just a few rooms on one floor in a building in Athens’ Kolonaki district. On my visit there was a solo exhibition by the American artist Sally Mann entitled Remembered Light: Cy Twombly In Lexington of black and white and colour photographs of the late Cy Twombly’s studio taken from 1999 to 2012.

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Remembered Light, Untitled (Flamingo Profile) (2012) by Sally Mann

Twombly was a friend and mentor of Mann’s. They both grew up in the US state of Virginia. The photographs of his studio featuring miscellaneous objects, art works, paint marks on the studio floor and walls, and light and shadow tones perpetuate his memory and spirit. Cy Twombly may be gone in body, but his energy continues to radiate strongly as if he never really left.

 

Touring the art galleries in Athens’ Kolonaki district

The Kolonaki district in Athens where the Gagosian gallery is based is conveniently home to the greatest concentration of art galleries in the city. Of course it is impossible to visit every single gallery (although I almost did succeed!) but I did visit a good number. My first port of call was Gallery 7 and a solo exhibition of realist portrait and figure paintings by the Greek artist Maria Hatziandreou. Her paintings are mature, emotive and atmospheric with a gift for empathy and getting to the emotional core of her subjects. She uses the medium of paint and colour very skilfully to achieve this.

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Painting by Maria Hatziandreou at Gallery 7

At the Eleftheria Tseliou Gallery there is a group exhibition, Conditions of Production, of mixed media works by emerging international artists. The focus of the exhibition is on materials with meditations on where they stand and how they fit in in the world of contemporary art. Of those works I am particularly drawn to Tina Tahir’s ‘Xenos (welcome mat)’ made of soil.

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‘Xenos (welcome mat)’ (2016) by Tina Tahir from the Conditions Of Production exhibition at the Eleftheria Tseliou Gallery

The Christina Androulidaki Gallery (CAN) is a small but notable art gallery, which plays a vital role in the city’s contemporary art scene. At the time of my visit I caught a group photography exhibition of young Greek photographers entitled The Sense of an Ending. It is a strong show and the space is perfect for the works on display. Definitely a gallery to follow and keep abreast of the most promising emerging local talent.

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Freewheeling (2017) by Dimitris Mylonas from the exhibition The Sense of An Ending at CAN

Afterwards I head to the Kalfayan Galleries space, originally established in 1995, and with a space in Thessaloniki too, focusing on Greek contemporary art. I visited the gallery to catch a solo show called The Cheat by the established Greek artist Antonis Donef. The central part of his exhibition is a large installation work entitled Cheating In Art History comprising of 370 neatly rowed lidless black pens across four black rectangular tables ending at an open book. On closer inspection, the pens contain pieces of text from E.H. Gombrich’s book ‘The Story Of Art’ (which is the open book on the final row) engraved very small scale with a needle. This alludes to the title of the work of memorising parrot-fashion style segments of information rather than fully understanding and absorbing it.

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Antonis Donef’s solo exhibition The Cheat at Kalfayan Galleries

The Zoumboulakis Galleries is one of the oldest galleries in Athens dating back to 1912. Nevertheless it is an important promotor of contemporary art in Athens. When I visited there was a solo exhibition of paintings entitled ‘Future’ by the Greek artist Christos Kechagloglou. His paintings are colourful, childlike and optimistic. His dreamy impressions of landscapes and seascapes invite the viewer on a happy journey of magic colours and limitless imaginary possibilities free from social straitjackets. The artist Paul Klee springs to mind when I focus on Kechagloglou’s paintings.

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Painting by the Greek artist Christos Kechagloglou from his solo exhibition ‘Future’ at the Zoumboulakis Galleries

One of the biggest surprises for me though was the two exhibitions I saw at the Astrolavos Dexameni gallery. I stumbled upon this gallery in the Kolonaki district by chance not knowing anything about the gallery beforehand. It is a large space over two floors where I was rewarded with a solo exhibition of polemic paintings by a young Greek artist called Stathis Mavridis and a separate show of atmospheric experimental paintings by a female Greek artist called Iles Xana.

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Painting by Stathis Mavridis at the Astrolavos Dexameni gallery

Stathis Mavridis’s paintings are powerful and very relevant. His painting featuring the former German Federal Minister of Finance, Wolfgang Schauble, and the words ‘Schuld abladen verboten’ (Literally; ‘Guilt unloading prohibited’) is particularly prominent. Schauble’s period as Germany’s finance minister from 2009-17 coincided with the unfolding of the crisis in Greece and in other countries across the Eurozone. Schauble is a very controversial figure in Greece as he is seen by many as responsible for the draconian austerity measures imposed on the country since the crisis first erupted.

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Painting by Iles Xana at the Astrolavos Dexameni gallery

The separate exhibition of paintings by Iles Xana are a delight. Whilst Madrivis’s paintings are external and time-based, Xana’s paintings are internal and timeless. There are like dream worlds one can float and get lost in. As well as paint she incorporates other materials such as glue to realise her visions

 

Important contemporary art related places I missed

One important place I really wanted to visit was the DESTE Foundation Center For Contemporary Art. Unfortunately there were no exhibitions on at the centre when I was in Athens, which was a shame as this place is one of the beacons of Athens’ contemporary art scene. The DESTE Foundation For Contemporary Art is a not for profit foundation originally established in Geneva in 1983 by the Greek art collector Dakis Joannou who is one of the most important figures in the world of contemporary art. The exhibition space in Athens is focused on promoting emerging and established contemporary artists.

With much regret, I sadly wasn’t able to visit BERNIER/ELIADES GALLERY, which was founded by Jean Bernier and Marina Eliades in 1977. The gallery is an important and influential promoter of Greek and international contemporary art. When I tried to visit the last exhibition had already ended. I hope to check out this gallery on my next visit to Athens

The Onassis Cultural Center is a leading arts centre located outside of the city centre, which I didn’t get round to visiting. It’s an enormous place though with a wide and diverse program of activities, exhibitions and events.

 

 

By Nicholas Peart 

(c)All Rights Reserved

 

 

USEFUL LINKS

http://www.greece-is.com/athens-art-guide/

http://athensartmap.net/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographs From The District Of Exarcheia In Athens

Exarcheia is an interesting district to explore in the Greek capital. When I was based in Athens for a few weeks in November 2017, I went on a few strolls in this part of the city. It is a slice of alternative Athens. You can call it trendy or hipster, but this is a very raw and unpolished place. This is no Shoreditch or Brooklyn. Demonstrations frequently take place. In fact, when I was there, I witnessed one manifesting by the Polytechnic University entrance with piles of stolen chairs and bits of furniture piled on top of one another. I’ve read about the anarchists who populate this district. They can be found around Exarcheia’s main square. When I passed this square, I saw a bum with an unruly bush of greying curly hair lying on a knackered mattress wrapped up warm (Athens starts to get cold in November) and engrossed in a book. By his side there were several columns of battered paperbacks. I thought to myself, Is this guy some skid row Socrates? There’s a sense of sadness when I walk these streets felt via the consequences of the never ending economic hard times the country is going through. Amongst the abrasive graffiti permeating the streets are some genuine works of art. On one wall someone has created an enormous mural of a homeless person with the words, ‘dedicated to the poor and homeless here and around the globe’. Below is a roll of photographs I took from my explorations here. The best sensors though are natural. One’s eyes, ears and nose will never be able to replace an artificial lens, but these snaps shall suffice…

 

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Photographs and text by Nicholas Peart

(c)All Rights Reserved

Photographs From Rome’s Testaccio District

The Testaccio neighbourhood of Rome located by the Tibor river and south of the Coliseum and ruins of ancient Roma is an interesting part of the city to stroll through. For a long time it was traditionally a working-class district. In recent years the area has become gentrified and this shows in some of the trendy eateries and bars as well as the broader mix of residents. Yet unlike some neighbourhoods. which completely lose their original flavour, Testaccio has retained much of its character and this shows in the photographs. The streets are full of grand old multi-story buildings. Graffiti, both artistic and non artistic, can be found in several corners of the neighbourhood.

The main piazza of Testaccio becomes animated over the weekend with families and children playing and kicking footballs around. Old long time residents can also be found shooting the breeze on the piazza benches.

Close to Pyramide metro station on the edge of the district is a prominent Egyptian style pyramid built during the Roman period. And nearby there is a beautiful and tranquil Protestant cemetery where one can find the graves of the English poets Keats and Shelley. I describe this cemetery in another blog post.

 

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Photographs and text by Nicholas Peart 

(c)All Rights Reserved 

 

 

Sculptures By Francesco Messina At The Vatican Museums

The Vatican Museums are one of the jewels if not the leading attraction of ‘must see’ sites in Rome. It’s on everyone and their Jack Russell’s ‘to do’ list. Rome is extremely well endowed with historical sites and one could spend weeks if not months trying to unearth most of them. The Vatican Museums are of course most famous for the Sistine chapel as well as the Rapheal rooms containing his frescoes and a large Pinacoteca featuring a treasure trove of landmark works of art. As a consequence of such riches, it is supremely popular and the crowds can be overwhelming.

However the Vatican Museums are an enormous place with a breath-taking collection of art impossible to digest in just one visit. As most people make a b-line for the highlights, lots of work gets overlooked. Interestingly, within the museum complex there is a museum of modern and contemporary art featuring works by Rodin, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse, Dali, Francis Bacon and several Italian modern artists including Giorgio Morandi, Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana. Yet it was the handful of bronze sculptures by the Italian sculptor Francesco Messina, which caught my full attention.

Messina is considered one of the most important Italian sculptors of the 20th century. His sculptures remind me of Donatello’s when it comes down to their core fundamentals. The most important of these is tapping into the soul and spirit of the subject. Donatello had an immense talent for achieving this and this is what distinguished and separated him from his contemporaries and competitors. What’s more incredible was that Donatello was creating such human and soulful sculptures at the beginning of the Renaissance and several years before Michelangelo. Most of Donatello’s contemporaries had at least one foot still in the Medieval ages. Donatello, on the other hand, was streets ahead. For Donatello it was not just about recreating and resuscitating the great sculptures of the Classical period, it was also about executing feelings and creating sculptures of his subjects in a way where he understood and connected to them.

Messina is a true student of Donatello. His sculptures of Adam, John the Baptist and David all have their roots in Donatello’s David. They are very sensitive and delicate sculptures. Messina, like Donatello, creates his subjects warts and all without any traces of exaggerated mannerisms. Messina’s sculpture of David is far closer to Donatello’s sculpture of David as opposed to Michelangelo’s. Michelangelo’s David for all its dexterous skill is almost too perfect. Donatello’s David is closer to the source and projects a David that is more real and less idealised. Messina’s 1953 bronze sculpture of David is an exceptional creation. His David is like a feral tearaway street urchin from a Jean Genet book. Messina’s David tries to act in a tough ‘too big for his boots’ way carrying a large sharp knife but its all a front and it shows. He’s really a lanky, scared and lost little boy with twig-thin arms. Messina has created a true David with all his strengths but also all his frailties and vulnerabilities.

Messina’s sculpture of a youthful John The Baptist is another gem where he deftly captures his tenderness and humanity; that of a pure and virtuous being. The gaze of the face of Christ in his Ecce Home sculpture is hypnotic and visceral. As is the face and figure of his Mary of Magdalen sculpture. And this is where Messina’s genius as an artist lies; in his ability to crystallise emotion.

 

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The Rising of Lazarus (1951) – bronze

 

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The Young St John the Baptist (1955) – bronze

 

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Doubting St. Thomas (1951) – bronze

 

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Ecce Home (1953) – bronze

 

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Adam (1939) – bronze

 

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The Magdalen (1953) – bronze

 

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Pius XII (1963) – bronze

 

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St. Catherine of Siena (1961) – bronze

 

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Pieta (1950) – bronze

 

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Davide (1953) – bronze

 

 

Text and photographs by Nicholas Peart 

(c)All Rights Reseved